Okay. This is going to be a very long post. I want to do more than just sharing the things I’m hauling – I also want to spread the good word on oils.
You’ve been warned.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let me share how I approach aromatherapy in general.
Obviously I’m neither a perfumer nor a naturopath, but I love sniffing good stuff, especially those from mother nature. For me, sniffing stuff is like therapy (daisies, roses, French bread, anyone?). I consider whiffing the flowers in my tea a form of aromatherapy too, even though formally, aromatherapy is much more complicated than that: It involves both the arts and sciences to heal your whole mind, body, and spirit using essential oils, not flowers or French breads.
Most would agree that it’s a growing arena in the wellness industry, considering people are acknowledging alternative medicine these days. It’s not just for yogis and Enya lovers – increasingly, natural oils are made accessible for everyone, and plenty of research has actually proven the healing properties of oils for everything from your hair to your skin to your moods and overall health.
Because they’re 100% natural, and no, oil doesn’t cause you pimples. In fact, it’s the exact opposite (and it’s basically physics 101): Oil dissolves oil. Particularly for the oily skin type, take a water-based (or worse, alcohol-based) skincare product to pat on your skin and only half the nutrients get absorbed into it (water and oil repels). But if you take an oil-based product (or just purely the oil itself) to massage the skin, you get the whole nourishing properties in the oil delivered onto the skin’s natural sebum. Over time, oil prevents your skin from overproducing oils, thereby causing less pimples.
Another reason for me to turn to oil for skincare is because frankly, I’m tired of seeing how little commercial beauty products actually do what they claim, and they often come with so many side effects. I’ve been developing a lot of comedones from several creams and moisturizers I’ve tried using, and they’re not even cheap.
Types of oil
It’s important to note that essential oils are NEVER to be used undiluted. Let me explain.
They’re not actually oils per se – essential oils are the concentrated compounds of the essences of the plant it’s extracted from. Because of the high concentration, these oils are highly volatile and NOT suitable for cooking. On the other hand, this volatility makes it excellent in perfumery: The scents quickly spread when they’re heated over candle flames and when diffused in the air. They’re also quick to burn when used for incense.
Characteristics: Sharp, thin, light, mobile, penetrating, uplifting, invigorating
Examples: Peppermint oil, myrrh oil, vetiver oil, lavender oil, bergamot oil, jasmine oil, ylang ylang oil
Put simply, base oils are vegetable oils that are used to dilute essential oils. Most of these oils are extracted from nuts and seeds, and you’ll see in the examples section that these oils are some of the most common cooking oils. Ideally you always want to look for the unrefined variety, because you don’t want to have synthetics, preservatives, and artificial fragrances in your mouth and on your skin.
Characteristics: Deep, dense, complex, full-bodied, almost odorless, balancing, grounding, supportive, stable
Examples: Grapeseed oil, rosehip oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, castor oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, olive oil, sesame oil borage seed oil, apricot kernel oil, emu oil, walnut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, sesame oil, calendula oil
Utama Spice haul
Jojoba oil: Jojoba oil is common among commercial products because it’s extremely stable. This makes it an ideal base for products to have a long shelf-life. Other than it being odorless (and therefore versatile for diluting essential oils), this “oil” is made out of liquid wax esters that act like natural emollients when it comes in contact with the human skin. Because jojoba’s chemical structure resembles that of the oils we naturally produce, it “tricks” your skin to absorb this oil easily and make it look naturally healthy, hydrated, and supple without the grease. Over time, applying jojoba oil on the skin can significantly improve sebum control. If you’re just beginning to switch from commercial products to all-natural skincare, jojoba oil is a wonderful place to start. Unlike synthetic waxes and artificial lubricants, jojoba oil won’t clog pores or irritate you in any way.
Tea tree oil: Finally, I got my hands on a 100% pure tea tree oil. This gem is a popular anti-acne treatment originated from Down Under, and is as effective as benzoyl peroxide in drying out pimples without irritating your skin and stripping off its natural moisture. What makes it so great at destroying bacteria is largely due to the terpenes in it, a compound commonly found in other herbs from the mint family such as peppermint, spearmint, and eucalyptus. The oil is able to penetrate through blockages between your skin and sebaceous glands to soothe and disinfect clogged-up pores from the inside. Whiteheads aside, the antiviral and antifungal properties of tea tree is also helpful for treating issues such as lice, herpes, yeast infections, ringworms, and athlete’s foot. It stimulates the immune system – just sniffing the sharp menthol-nutmegish aroma from the bottle invigorates you all over.
If you should ever use tea tree oil undiluted, you’ll probably suffer from a wide variety of side effects, particularly for sensitive skins. It can cause rashes, even potentially causing coma. Others have claimed tea tree helps manage dandruffs and fight dry and itchy scalps, but I haven’t tried massaging my head with it yet.
Fennel oil: Fennel’s got a bittersweet anise and licorice-like aroma that’s extremely relaxing. As I’ve shared on this post, My Plant Personality Quiz results show that fennel is my secondary personality after dandelion1 – so that’s what got me the impulse to buy this bottle. The plant is best known for promoting healthy digestion and reducing bloating, gassiness, and other digestive issues. In the ancient times, people associated fennel with courage, strength, and longevity. Somewhere down the line, the medieval civilizations began using them to ward of witches and other evil spirits instead. Today, aside from helping with digestion, fennel is used widely in medicine, but it’s best worth noting its ability to improve emotional well-being, thanks to its estrogenic properties. It energizes the female reproductive system, balances your moods, even livening up dull complexions and toning up mature skin. Sweet, right?
Sandalwood oil: In ancient traditions, sandalwood is considered a sacred aroma. The common practice is to embalm a drop of sandalwood oil on the forehead, as it is said that the warm, woody, relaxing fragrance brings peace to the mind. Today it’s normally diffused in toilets – you’ll probably picture yourself in hotel and spa washrooms when you sniff on sandalwood.
Now get this: A recent German study discovered that our skin actually has olfactory receptors – or, simply put, your skin can smell things. And when it smells sandalwood, it triggers itself to heal. Fascinating, right?
Lemongrass oil: This scent is probably best known for how effective it is at repelling mosquitoes. It’s a native to Southeast Asia and has a sweet, mild, lemony quality that isn’t as acidic as real lemons. Often simply drank as tea and used to add a touch of citrus to meat dishes and desserts, lemongrass also helps treat fevers and other infectious diseases, thanks to a compound called citral for its antimicrobial properties. In a 2011 study, it’s also suggested to have anti-anxiety properties as well. The clean, refreshing, invigorating aroma itself is just great for calming your nerves, reducing stress, relieving headaches, migraines, even muscular aches and pains. Dilute it with a base oil and apply it topically, and lemongrass also acts as an astringent to help minimize pores, control shine, and gets you a firmer-looking skin.
Aura Cacia haul
Lavender oil: Being the most versatile essential oil of all, lavender is the ideal scent to have in every household, whether it comes as a spray for pillows so you can sleep better at night or as an ointment for treating migraines. In this study, researchers discovered that dental patients are less anxious when the waiting room was scented with lavender (fun study, eh?). In another study, graduate nursing students in Florida also had less anxiety when they inhaled lavender and rosemary essential oils before taking their exams. Perhaps the strongest evidence of lavender’s anti-anxiety effects of all is this German study: Lavender supplements was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s as effective, if not more, than some of the most common prescriptions for GAD.
For someone who’s easily stressed, had suffered from depression before, and still recovering from chronic worrying, I bought a 59ml bottle of lavender oil from Aura Cacia to have in my bag wherever I go. It doesn’t cure the root of the problem, but it helps ease your mind big time. It doesn’t only get to your nerves though – applying lavender oil topically on cuts, burns, bruises and other skin irritations soothes them too.
Eucalyptus oil: You’ll know it when you smell it – eucalyptus is so cooling and healing, it’s the ultimate cure for a stuffy nose. Although it’s native to Down Under, for some reason it’s all over China. You can almost always spot eucalyptus listed on over-the-counter cough and cold treatments because it’s so effective at relieving congestion. It invigorates the respiratory system, eases stomaches if you rub a bit of it on your tummy, and just like tea tree, helps treat acne as well. If you’ve just done a hardcore workout and go home with super stiff muscles, rubbing eucalyptus oil will release the tension and aches. I wanted to know I’m getting quality-grade 100% eucalyptus oil, so I grabbed this off the shelf while I was at Aura Cacia.
Rosehip oil: Miranda Kerr swears by it every night, it’s loaded with essential fatty acids, and it doesn’t grease you up. As if all that wasn’t enough, rosehip oil is rich in lycopene, a type of carotenoid like the ones in these fruits that gives the oil its color and vibrance. What’s more: Vitamins A and C. Seriously – it’s like the magic bullet for anti-aging in bottle: In 1988, two researchers published their findings based on a 2-year study titled “Contributions to Identification and Application of Active Components Contained in Rosa Aff. Rubiginosa“. By the end of the study, all participants see significant results after applying rosehip oil, particularly in healing scars, burns, and erasing fine lines and wrinkles of those suffering from premature aging skin. Not only do these patients see a clearer complexion and a plumper look, they also noticed that it restored their natural color and tone. Even those that developed wrinkles and brown spots under the sun had them all disappear by 4 months2.
No wonder Miranda has, like, zero stretch marks – she claimed to have rubbed rosehip oil on her body throughout her pregnancy. So far it’s been 3 months or so that I’ve been using it religiously on my face, and I’m seeing fading acne scars that I’ve had for ages. I got it from NOW Foods a few months ago.
Chinese medicated oil: I got one by the Four Seasons brand at a local Century store. Ever since I was very little, this is the go-to medication my mom treats me with for everything from headaches, indigestion, seasickness, flu, any forms of pain and just overall stiffness. Because it smells so strong, I recently found another use of it during my trip to China: Sniff it while you’re in an awfully smelly public toilet :p Seriously, it worked. It’s stronger than eucalyptus (it has eucalyptus in it too). While others were puking by the time they got out of the toilet, I came out just fine because of this oil. Ingredients are 67% Peppermint oil, 23% menthol, and 10% hak yau … and I have no idea what hak yau is. Regardless, I always have this in my bag and inhale it whenever I sneeze, feel sick, feel nausea in the car, feel I’ve been sitting for too long and find it harder to breathe, and just about everything else that ails me.
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If you’ve just scrolled all the way down here to see how long the post is and just want to get down to the bottom line, then here’s the bottom line: Oils are awesome.
For you who’s been with me for the past 20 minutes, you’ll probably want to bookmark this post anyway, because I bet you won’t be able to read the whole thing in one sitting. Part of why I bothered to gather all these information is because I also want to look back at all the hard evidence that’s pointing to oil’s health and beauty benefits. They’re all here, and I’m convincing you to give oils a try.
In the coming week, I’ll be sharing my 100% all-natural nighttime regimen that I’ve been on for over a month now.
These oils don’t work overnight like commercial skincare products do and/or promise to do. But give it time and due diligence, and you’ll see what I mean.
P.S. Check out what happens to the editors at Elle when they swapped their entire beauty regime to just oil.
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